Holding on to Faith in Desperate Times
3. The Text That Changed The World
Habakkuk 2: 4, Romans 1: 17
We need to hold 2 texts together because one is the key to the other. Romans 1: 17: For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Paul is quoting the OT from Habakkuk 2: 4: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
Everyone agrees that this is the central verse of Habakkuk. It is certainly one of the most crucial verses in the Bible. This is the text that changed the world. This text first changed a man, and that man changed the world. Most of us know the story of Martin Luther, at one time an obscure Roman Catholic monk, who entered the monastery seeking to be set free from the heavy burden of guilt he felt because of his sin. Though he was an obedient son of the church, he found no rest for his soul in prayer and fasting and penance. His eyes were opened by God when he studied the epistle to the Romans. As he came to Romans 1:17, he pondered the meaning of the quotation from Habakkuk 2:4. Reflecting back on what this text meant in his life, Luther offered this testimony:
When by the Spirit of God, I understood these words—"The just shall live by faith"—then I felt born again like a new man. I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.
When Martin Luther found this text—or more accurately—when this text found him, it turned his life upside down. No longer was he willing to remain a simple monk at the monastery in Erfurt. Once the blazing truth of justification by faith gripped his soul, he ignited a fire that eventually spread throughout Europe and eventually to the ends of the earth.
What Habakkuk Wrote
This little phrase, "the just shall live by faith," comes almost as an aside. In Habakkuk 2 God pronounces judgment on the wicked Babylonians. Because they are greedy and arrogant and bloodthirsty and ruthless, because they kill without remorse, and because they give themselves over to every sort of evil, God promises to one day destroy them.
But that day is a long way off. Babylon won’t be destroyed for almost 70 years. They still have a lot of looting left to do. They will plunder many nations. Their end is determined, but it won’t happen for a long time.
What do you do while you watch the bad guys steal and kill and behead their enemies? That’s a question ripped from today’s headlines. What do you do when evildoers come to power? The just shall live by faith. What do you do when your prayers go unanswered? The just shall live by faith. What do you do when your dreams turn to ashes? The just shall live by faith. When all you see is trouble on every hand, the righteous man remembers that God is still on his throne, and when the dark clouds break overhead, he says to himself, “The just shall live by faith.”
How much did Habakkuk understand about Luther and the Protestant Reformation? Nothing at all. He understood these words entirely in the context of his own times. More than 600 years later the Holy Spirit moved Paul to quote these words to prove that the gospel was no innovation but had been predicted in the Old Testament. And 1500 years after that, Martin Luther found rest for his soul when he understood the true meaning of “the just shall live by faith.”
What Paul Wrote
This is the verse that changed Luther's life: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17). In the previous verse Paul declared that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Paul explains why the gospel is so powerful -
1. It reveals a righteousness that comes from God
The word righteousness comes from the courtrooms of the ancient world. It means to declare "not guilty" and to declare someone innocent of all charges. If you are righteous in God's eyes, you can stand before him and be declared "not guilty."
The gospel of Christ provides for us what we could never provide for ourselves. On our own merit we all stand condemned before the Almighty. Who would dare to say, "I am good enough to go to heaven"? As someone has said, "A clear conscience is the result of a poor memory." The only people who think they are good enough to go to heaven are the people who don't know how bad they really are!
Righteousness is what we need but do not have. Therefore God, knowing that we could never be righteous on our own, provided a righteousness that comes down to us from heaven above. It's not earned or deserved but is given to us by God as a free gift. It comes not from within us as a result of our good deeds but from outside of us entirely. Where can a guilty sinner find righteousness? He can find it in Jesus Christ!
My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
That brings us to the second reason why the gospel is so powerful.
2. The righteousness from God is received only by faith
The key word here is faith. Our text says that righteousness is received “by faith from first to last.” Everyone who is saved is saved the same way. It is faith alone and faith always. How can I be right with God? The answer is simple: By receiving the righteousness of God that comes only by faith.
We need this because we’re all in the same boat and the boat is going down. Romans 3: 22 -23, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No difference between rich and poor, young and old, black or white, male or female. We all stand condemned by our sin and all of us are under the judgment of God. Our sins may not be exactly the same, but we are all sinners nonetheless. We’re all in the same boat, and the boat has sprung a huge leak. If God doesn’t do something, we will all perish together.
We have a big problem with this because deep down inside we secretly think that God makes deals. That if we will only try hard enough, do our best, clean up our act, play by the rules, and treat people right, then God will let us into heaven in the end.
Jesus is the only righteous man who ever lived. Jesus Christ was pure, holy, and perfect in every way. He never sinned, not even one time. Though he was severely tempted, he never gave in. All the rest of us fall so far short that we cannot begin to be compared to him. He is the only righteous man ever to walk this earth. And we crucified him.
Here is the wonder of grace at work. From the murder of a perfect man came God’s plan to rescue the human race. If you want to go to heaven, learn this lesson: God Doesn't Make Deals With Sinners. If you come to God on the basis of your good works, you will be turned away because you miss the mark of 100% perfection. But if you come to God on the basis of the righteousness provided by the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be accepted.
There is a third reason why the gospel is so powerful.
3. By the righteousness in the gospel men and women are declared just in the eyes of God.
To prove his point Paul includes a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, "The just shall live by faith."
Faith alone! Not by works of the law. Faith alone! Not by obedience to the Church. Faith alone! Not by human righteousness. Faith alone! Not by baptism. Faith alone! Not by good intentions. Faith alone! Not by the sacraments. Faith alone! Not by acts of charity. Faith alone! Plus nothing and minus nothing!
What does it mean to have "faith alone" in this sense? If you know what it means to believe a doctor when he says, "You need surgery," you know what it means to have faith. If you know what it means to step into an airplane entrusting your safety to the captain in the cockpit, you know what it means to have faith. If you know what it means to ask a lawyer to plead your case in court, you know what it means to have faith. Faith is complete reliance upon another person to do that which you could never do for yourself.
How much faith does it take to go to heaven? It depends. The answer is not much and all you've got. If you are willing to trust Jesus Christ with as much faith as you happen to have, you can be saved. But if you're holding anything back, thinking that maybe you need to do something to help save yourself, forget it! Saving faith is putting your trust in Jesus Christ and him alone. In order to do that you have to stop trying to save yourself.
Let me say it as plainly as I can. There is good news and bad news from our text. The bad news: You have no other hope of heaven outside of Jesus Christ. Good works cannot save you. Church membership cannot save you. Baptism cannot save you. Giving money cannot save you. Keeping the 10 Commandments cannot save you. Nothing you can do will make the least bit of difference concerning your eternal salvation. If you are trusting in your good life or in your religion to get you to heaven, someday you will be sadly (and eternally) disappointed.
The good news: Those who put their trust in Jesus Christ are saved forever. That’s the real meaning of “the just will live by faith.”
I said earlier that we are all in the same boat. We are all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. The death of Christ provides the full payment for our sins. What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us through the death of his Son. The only thing left is to believe in him. Let all who read these words take them to heart. Run to the cross. Turn from your sin, lay down your self-will, and lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and died for you. Cast yourself completely on Jesus for your salvation. If you trust in him with all your heart, he will not turn you away.
It all comes down to six simple words:
The just shall live by faith.
That’s the message we preach.
This the text that changed the world.
And it all started with Habakkuk 2600 years ago.